I confess that the death of Michael Jackson last week left me feeling a bit nostalgic and philosophical. For many of this blog’s readers, Jackson was primarily known as a bizarre and ghoulish figure who inhabited the tabloids more than he did the pop charts.

For many in my generation, though, he was our first major exposure to pop culture, a larger-than-life persona who shaped our musical consciousness. My parents had Elvis and the Beatles; my peers and I had Michael Jackson and U2.

The enormity of his success only served to make his subsequent deterioration all the sadder. The strange changes in his appearance, the diminishing of his musical talent, and the accusations of child abuse drove home to me the perilous nature of worldly success, and the foolishness holding other humans on a pedestal.

At any rate, here are some theological musings on the life and death of Michael Jackson:

We have a God-given desire to imitate somebody. As silly as it sounds, I remember practicing the moonwalk — unsuccessfully, by the way — in my kitchen as a kid (that was a dance move, for those who might not know). It wasn’t just me; everybody wanted to breakdance after Jackson made it popular. We all want a hero, somebody to model our lives after.

The Scripture affirms this desire, and gives us a particular object to imitate: Jesus Christ. Peter writes that Christ is “an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Paul tells us to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Imitation can be a good thing, IF we imitate the right person.

We are made in God’s image yet sadly broken by sin. The news coverage on Jackson presents him as two different people — the brilliant musician gifted by God and the tragic celebrity haunted by his demons. Which is the “real” Michael Jackson? Or did the “real” Michael vanish at some point, to be replaced by the imposter?

The truth is that both were the “real” Michael. You and I are all presented in Scripture as divided people, made in the image of God and capable of great glory (Gen 1:26; Ps 8:5), but also deeply marred and twisted by sin (Rom 3:10-18). Only through redemption in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit can my malady be healed. As it is, I am still waiting for the destruction of the sin that lives in me. Meanwhile we “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of the body” (Rom 8:23).

We are more tragic than we would like to believe, but for those who trust in Christ we will be more glorious than we dare to hope.

Significance is only found in Jesus Christ. The saddest part of Michael Jackson’s story is that he always seemed to be searching for a purpose and meaning that he never found. He never found it in fame, music, or even the childhood religion that he professed. Even at the pinnacle of human success, he was unhappy and self-destructive.

Paul writes, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

After seeking significance in himself, Paul found it in Christ. Where do you and I find it? Are we trying to find significance in worldly pursuits, or only in the One who died and rose again to give us True Life?

If nothing else, one person’s death reminds us that one day we all face death unless Jesus comes first. Let’s pray that when we lie in the ground, we will NOT be remembered our popularity or talent or wealth or accomplishments. If we are remembered at all, let it be because we simply reflect and imitate our Savior.

Matt Morton, College Pastor